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Aid Sought for Memphis-Bound Afghan Immigrants

 Saifodeen Andesh found a home in the Midsouth after fleeing Afghanistan several years ago.
Katie Riordan
Saifodeen Andesh found a home in the Midsouth after fleeing Afghanistan several years ago.

Immigration advocates and Shelby County officials are asking residents for help in their efforts to resettle refugees from Afghanistan in the Midsouth.

At least 65,000 Afghan nationals evacuated after the Taliban takeover of the capital Kabul last month will need to be resettled across the country.

Initially, a small fraction are expected here: 36 people, according to the local resettlement agency World Relief, with possibly more in the future.

At a press conference Thursday, the organization’s head, PJ Moore, said the process of creating stable lives for the new neighbors requires a “all hands on deck approach.”

“While incredibly resilient, incoming Afghans will need the support of public, private and faith-based institutions and individuals to be resettled,” Moore said.

The agency says the extra assistance is vital, in part, because most of the incoming Memphis arrivals were admitted to the U.S. under what’s known as humanitarian parole status. Other formal visas for them were not processed in time as the military rushed a mass evacuation of eligible Afghan citizens before an American troop withdrawal deadline at the end of August.

But, this creates a challenge for those administering aid, Moore said. A so-called "humanitarian parolee" doesn’t currently receive the same federal safety net benefits allotted to other refugees. It’s also only a temporary immigration status and requires recipients to later seek a more permanent option such as filing for asylum.

“One big push that we’ll be focusing on is the need for legal services,” Moore said. “They [humanitarian parolees] are able to adjust their status, but it is an adjudicated process to apply for asylum, and that’s a very labor intensive process that requires expertise.”

Some Afghan evacuees headed to the U.S., or already here at a military base, have been provided what’s known as a special immigrant visa (SIV). These are specifically designated for allies who provided U.S. troops or diplomatic missions with services such as translation. Others whose SIV applications are still pending, or fear Taliban persecution for other reasons and have fled, may receive the provisional humanitarian classification.

World Relief Memphis, like other resettlement agencies across the country, is trying to quickly scale back up services after cuts to programming under the Trump administration. The number of refugees who came to Memphis this past year had fallen to 65, compared to almost 300 before Trump took office.

This coming fiscal year, the organization is expected to resettle between 350 and 400 refugees from all over the world. It’s an all-time high for World Relief Memphis, which has operated locally since 2012.

“For all these reasons it’s imperative that everyone who cares for the lives of the vulnerable and the oppressed get involved,” Moore said. “We have to provide what we can both to do our duty to serve our neighbors and to live up to America’s legacy as a leader in humanitarian aid.”

Both Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and County Mayor Lee Harris say local government is partnering with World Relief to offer job and housing services.

Recent polls show that the majority of Americans support the resettlement of Afghans who aided the U.S. government during its two decade long presence in Afghanistan.

For more information on ways to donate or volunteer with World Relief, visit their website worldrelief.org/Memphis.

Copyright 2021 WKNO

Katie joined the WKNO team in 2019. She's always eager to hear your story ideas. You can email her at kriordan@wkno.org